As a child, I really didn’t know much about asthma. My memories of the disease had nothing to do with me but with my father. He was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 32.
I would join him for his weekly allergy shot appointments; I remember it was at one of his appointments when I saw an inhaler for the first time. I also remember having conversations with him when suddenly, he would break out into a persistent cough and a strained voice. He would reach into his shirt pocket to grab his inhaler, take a breath from it, let out a hard cough and then – like magic -- he’d be fine. I was inquisitive about the whole process and I’d ask him questions. His behaviors and his explanations for them were how I first learned about asthma.
During my years of attending high school, I learned to play the clarinet and spent my summers practicing marching band formations. Unfortunately, my father’s asthma wasn’t controlled so, he didn’t attend many of my school events, which were mostly outside. He became less and less active and, when he wasn’t working, he preferred to stay indoors. At some point he even stopped joining us on family vacations because he was so sensitive to the environment.
As a teenager, I noticed several things that were different at our house compared to my friends’ houses. We never opened the windows or doors at home when it was nice outside. We also never had indoor pets. Laundry detergent had to be dye free and perfume free. In fact, I remember having to put on my perfume or hairspray in my driveway before school because I wasn’t allowed to spray it indoors.
"Then, at age 32, after a few of visits to the emergency room due to wheezing and sudden attacks, I was diagnosed with asthma. I was the same age as my father when he was diagnosed."
At age 17, I came down with bronchitis. This was the first time I was given my own rescue inhaler. Flashbacks of my father came to mind when I had to use it. Then, at age 32, after a few of visits to the emergency room due to wheezing and sudden attacks, I was diagnosed with asthma. I was the same age as my father when he was diagnosed. This is when I really learned about asthma.
Now I know more than I want to know about the disease. I know exactly how it feels during an asthma attack. I know the sound of wheezing with each breath. I know the feeling of a tight chest. I know the frustration when you try to take a full breath but can’t. I know the fear of wanting and getting air but knowing it isn’t enough. And unfortunately, I know the panic that sets in upon this realization. I know this personally and I wish I would have known it earlier when I used to see my father struggle.
I am fortunate; however, because I also know ways to control these things. I know the importance of avoiding triggers, managing stress and being on the right medication for me and taking it just as prescribed. Because I control my asthma, I am able to relax by going out for walks. I enjoy reading – especially at the beach with the salty air, and I enjoy stretching and breathing exercises. Unlike my father, I haven’t let asthma change my routines.
"I know the importance of avoiding triggers, managing stress and being on the right medication for me and taking it just as prescribed."
As a Senior Clinical Safety Associate on the Medical Team at GSK, every day I am reminded of how serious this lung disease can be. I’m motivated to share my story to help those who don’t have asthma understand what it feels like and to remind them that not all asthma sufferers are born with the disease. Some grow into it, like me.
The good news is that today, my fathers’ asthma is well controlled due to how he manages his own triggers and medication – and some urging from me! I don’t take a single breath for granted and neither does he. We live every breath thoughtfully, not only for ourselves, but for each other.
Meet Jamie Kinghorn, a site communications manager at our Montrose site in the UK. Here Jamie explains how he’s controlled his asthma from a very young age; and how managing his asthma enabled him to climb Mount Kenya to support Save the Children.
Patients & consumers
For some, breathing easy sounds simple – it just happens. But for Sarah and for millions of others like her, breathing can be a daily struggle.